Before jambalaya there was jollof rice

  • By Michelle Kayal Associated Press
  • Tuesday, April 23, 2013 4:10pm
  • Life

Whenever Esi Impraim’s mother made jollof — a rich, tomato-laced dish of meats, rice and sometimes seafood — the time it took to bubble away on the stove was always excruciating.

“I always got excited when we had it,” the 32-year-old Chicago executive assistant says of the ubiquitous West African staple.

“Sometimes she liked to experiment with her dishes, but this one was always the same.”

Impraim’s parents came to the U.S. from Ghana, and her mom served jollof alongside fish or chicken and went light on the oil. But the dish, popular in countries such as Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia, has as many variations as cooks.

A one-pot meal, jollof’s basic ingredients include rice that turns bright umber in the tomato sauce, spices that range from nutmeg to chili peppers, and sometimes vegetables.

Sound like jambalaya? Not a coincidence.

“If you look at gumbo, jambalaya, hoppin’ John, these are all derivatives,” says Frederick Douglass Opie, a scholar of foodways of the African diaspora at Harvard University.

“As you listen to the definition of what jollof rice is — a red-based rice — it’s the same thing. As my mother would say, ‘They’re all kissing cousins.”’

Jollof rice is thought to have originated in the Jollof empire, a kingdom that controlled wide swaths of western Africa from the 14th through the 19th centuries.

Many American slaves came from this part of the continent, part of Africa’s “rice belt.” They brought with them their agricultural knowledge and their rice-based food traditions.

Like the American dishes it influenced, jollof has endless variations. It is made differently in different countries, and even by different people in the same country.

A story in the British newspaper The Guardian called jollof “the African dish that everyone loves but no one can agree on.”

Most versions begin by frying onions in oil, adding tomatoes and stock, then cooking the rice in the resulting sauce.

But which rice, which spices to add and whether to serve the meat on the side or mixed into the dish can make grandmothers feud.

“It’s like pizza,” Opie says. “There’s a big argument between Chicago and New York. They’ve both got the same ingredients, it’s just what you do with them.

Jollof rice

For the rice:

4tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided

1large yellow onion, chopped

2cloves garlic, minced

1tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3tablespoons tomato paste

15-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes

1teaspoon ground coriander

1teaspoon ground cumin

1teaspoon curry powder

1teaspoon salt

1/2teaspoon ground black pepper

1teaspoon dried thyme

1/2teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)

2cups basmati rice

5to 6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) unsalted chicken stock

For the vegetables (select 2 or 3):

1red bell pepper, cored and diced

1green bell pepper, cored and diced

2stalks celery, diced

2carrots, diced

3/4cup fresh or frozen peas

3/4cup fresh or frozen green beans

For the protein (select 1 or 2):

1pound large peeled shrimp

1pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1pound sirloin steak, cubed

1pound tofu or seitan, cubed

For the garish (select 1):

Chopped fresh parsley

Chopped fresh cilantro

Sliced scallions

Hot sauce

In a large, heavy bottomed pan such as a Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, then cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook until the mixture becomes brick red, about another 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, coriander, cumin, curry, salt, black pepper, thyme, red pepper flakes and rice. Stir to mix. Add 5 cups of the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid. Check the rice; if it is still firm, add another cup of stock and cook until absorbed.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil. Saute your choice of vegetables for 5 to 6 minutes, or until beginning to brown and starting to be tender. They do not have to be completely cooked through. Add them to the rice and stir in.

Repeat the sauteing process with the remaining tablespoon of oil and your choice of protein, searing it over medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Stir that into the rice mixture, as well.

Cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and the vegetables and protein are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and garnish with herbs and/or hot sauce.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe by Alison Ladman.

More in Life

Ice queen: Local women’s hockey team founder is fearless

Leslie Tidball’s fearless competitive spirit keeps her going strong in ice hockey at 64 years old.

Sarita Viramontiz attempts a start off the blocks during an open house at the Granite Curling Club Sunday night in Seattle on February 18, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Granite Curling Club hosts open houses to teach the Olympic sport

With the 2018 Winter Games wrapping up, the club expects its informal classes to fill up quickly.

How to entice a wide range of winged friends to your yard

A Tulalip Bay couple shares how they encourage birds, bees and butterflies to visit their garden.

You can bird-proof your home to prevent window deaths

Studies estimate that billions of birds die after crashing into glass in the U.S. each year.

American horror: What can we do to prevent mass murder?

There isn’t a single cause or a single solution for deathly shootings like the one in Florida.

Making chores fun: Clean up the kitchen in five easy steps

“Zone cleaning” is to do one step at a time, which means that chores aren’t overwhelming.

Discovering the romance of Germany’s Black Forest

Avoid the tourist traps and immerse yourself in the region’s charming countryside.

Growing up: Some plants go through changes not unlike puberty

Arborvitae, junipers, spruce and pines, for example, exhibit juvenile and adult characteristics.

Decorated ceramic pig bares famous Wemyss Ware trademark

Very early flower-decorated pigs from Wemyss Ware have auctioned for over $30,000.

Most Read